Sunday, March 06, 2011

HB477 Doesn't Pass the Smell Test

House Bill 477, the "Government Records Amendment" Bill, was passed by both the House and the Senate less than 72 hours after it was released to the public, and it will become law the second the Governor signs it.

The process alone should raise alarm bells in EVERY citizen.

Even more troubling is the spin certain Legislators are trying to put on it.

All of the following quotes are from The Senate Site post on HB477.

1. GRAMA has been used as a tool for fishing expeditions. Some entities (media outlets and law firms) asked for massive amounts of records over long periods of time in order to troll for information that may or may not be there. This has diverted staff time and tax dollars to an unreasonable degree.

That's the media's job -- to report. How are they going to know there are fish in the pond? They aren't my mother -- they can't read minds.

2. There are too many disputes between the media and the Legislature about the interpretation of certain words, concepts, and provisions in GRAMA. We wanted to clarify.

Using HB477 to clarify these disputes is like using a Browning 1911 to get a sliver out of your finger. Problem solved, right?

3. GRAMA was written into Utah Code twenty years ago - long before email, instant messaging, text messaging and video chat were in common use. GRAMA anticipated that written records would be public but private conversations could stay private. Current GRAMA code defines casual text, video chat and instant message conversations, etc. as “records” rather than “conversations.”

The Legislature are employed by the citizens of Utah. If my employer supplies me with an email account and cell phone to do my work, he can look at these records. These conversations are records and should stay records.

4. One city had a request for the entire parking enforcement data base since 2000 – more than a million lines of data – looking for information on one vehicle.

If that database is not electronic, it should be. It's not that hard. And it makes it easier to research. Or, as the case is, turn over the information so that the information could be researched.

5. GRAMA requests can be time-consuming. Legislative staffers spent over 400 hours last year fulfilling these requests, sorting through tens of thousands of records. This keeps them from performing other important duties, like drafting bills. So far this legislative session (not counting today), 10 GRAMA requests have been made, which, when coupled with a near-record number of bill requests, has created a major log jam.

Let's say that you had one full-time staffer to do nothing but research GRAMA requests. If you gave that staffer 4 weeks vacation, they'd have 38 full weeks to sit around picking their nose. Or play Angry Birds. Or whatever employed people do when they aren't working.

6. As GRAMA requests increase in scope they get more expensive. Who should pay for all the staff hours and printing cost? Right now, the default assumption is that the taxpayers foot the bill.

I have yet to see a dollar amount of how much this is costing. Not even a wild guess. And yes, the Government should foot the bill.

7. GRAMA does not protect the privacy of constituents. People write their legislator and often disclose personal information in confidence, not knowing that GRAMA allows anyone to access that information.

I know of no instance where something told a legislator in confidence was ever made widely known to the general public due to a GRAMA request.

8. Necessary GRAMA changes have been suggested for many years. Based on experience, some lawmakers lack faith that the media bosses could negotiate in good faith re: GRAMA and arrive at reasonable solutions.

So, you PROVE that you have zero ability to negotiate AT ALL by ramming this bill through in 72 hours?

9. West Valley City had to deal with a request for all land-use decisions over the past 30 years; it took 1 full time person 3 months, including multiple reviews by other staff, to fill the request. Costs approached $30,000.

Computers are a wonderful thing. Digitize everything.

10. The governor’s office filled 30 GRAMA requests last year, releasing 1,900 documents after poring over tens of thousands of them. The staff member tasked with handling records requests spent more than 100 hours doing so, and as with all government agencies, that doesn’t include the participation required from other staff.

And because of this, we know $13 Million of hush money was paid to the losing bidders on the I-15 project. If the media and the public can't keep Government accountable, who will?

11. GRAMA contains broad legislative intent language that has been used by the Utah Supreme Court to circumvent the actual language of the law. Eliminating this will ensure that government entities, the state, records committee and courts rely on the plain language of the statute. See Deseret News v. Salt Lake County, 3/28/08, Footnote 3. We shouldn’t have to legislate this but here we are.

Again, taking a sliver out with a Browning 1911.

12. The town of Alta spent six (6) years fulfilling one request for every public document – 250,000 of them — at a cost of $37,000.

Someone needs a faster copy machine.

13. GRAMA does not protect notes and other informal documents prepared by or for a legislator’s own use or reference.

If they are about the People's Work, than they should be public records.

14. GRAMA does not protect personal email addresses or other online identifiers a person may want to keep private.

Has someone been spammed because of a GRAMA request?

15. The idea of bringing our GRAMA laws up to date is not a new one. When ideas have been brought up in the past, the media bosses took it upon themselves to pick off legislative support one legislator at a time.

That's how are Government works, or is supposed to work. A Legislator proposes a bill. The public and organizations who have an interest in the bill then talk to the Legislators about it.

But, with the precedent HB477 sets, the Legislature rams a bill through with no time for the discussion. Because Legislators might decide what their bosses told them was wrong.

16. Most legislators feel that private communications with family, personal friends or business clients should go beyond a theoretical protection. If challenged, the court is predisposed to release the records.

Guess what: DON'T HAVE PERSONAL COMMUNICATION WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY ON YOUR WORK (READ: STATE) EMAIL/BLACKBERRY! And, it should be illegal to conduct business on state equipment. You all should have private email and cell phone access for those purposes. If not, they come fairly cheap. Most workplaces don't allow you to make personal phone calls on company equipment.

22. This isn’t the final word. No legislation ever is. We’ll work on this through the interim.

Measure First, Cut Second. Unless you're the Utah Legislature. Then it's Cut First, Measure when we get around to it. Remind me not to ask the Legislators for help building my shed this summer.

Lastly, Republics need to be open and accountable. HB477 slams the door shut on that openness and accountability. Secretive Republics are full of fraud and dishonesty. After all, as it says in LDS Scripture: "We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion." If there is zero chance of getting caught......

Which makes me wonder what big scandal is being covered up......

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